Do soda taxes work? Experts look to Mexico for answers


(CNN)Should you have to pay an added tax for that soda? Voters in four American cities will face that question next week as they decide whether the sugary beverages sold in their neighborhoods should be taxed.

Initiatives to tax the sale of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages are on upcoming ballots in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, California; and Boulder, Colorado.
    As soda beverages have been associated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and possibly heart failure, the idea behind these measures is to curb soda consumption in order to benefit public health.
    A roughly 10% nationwide tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was introduced in Mexico in January 2014. Now, the policy is projected to result in an eye-popping drop in type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart attack and even death, according to a modeling study published in the journal PLOS Medicine on Tuesday.


    After Berkeley’s tax passed, there was a 21% decrease in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and a 63% increase in the consumption of water in the city’s low-income neighborhoods, according to a study published online in the American Journal of Public Health in September.
    The study involved 990 residents in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco who were asked to complete a questionnaire about personal beverage consumption before the tax passed. Then, 1,689 residents completed the same questionnaire after the tax.
    “Our study focused on low-income communities, and we saw a larger effect than models have predicted, which from a public health standpoint was a very promising result, but our numbers weren’t that different from those in Mexico among low-income households,” said Dr. Kristine Madsen, associate professor of joint medical program and public health nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the study in the American Journal of Public Health.

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    Madsen added that the new PLOS Medicine modeling study, which included hard data on changes in sugar-sweetened beverage purchases in Mexico, takes a rigorous approach to predicting the long-term public health impact of soda taxes.
    “The model suggests that Mexico will see a dramatic reduction in diabetes as a result of their soda tax,” she said. “We have an epidemic of diabetes in the United States just like Mexico, and the causes are similar. Therefore, I expect that the health implications of taxes in the US are likely to be similar as well.”

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